Research Themes

IOSI supports both applied and fundamental research, including proof-of-concept, with a clear line-of-sight towards technology commercialization in oil sands mining operations, in the four research themes: Extraction, Smart Mining, Tailings, and Value-Added Products. The current focus areas are described below.

Extraction

Extraction

Focus 2021/22: Aqueous Bitumen Extraction Optimization

Background

Mined oil sands industry uses a water-based extraction process to separate bitumen from oil sands ore. Here the mined oil sands – after being crushed – are mixed with hot process water and caustic to form a slurry.  The slurry is transferred to separation vessels via hydrotransport lines where ore lumps are mechanically sheared, and bitumen gets aerated. The aerated bitumen is separated in the form of froth in the primary separation cell.  The unrecovered bitumen is subjected to air flotation.  Over 90% of bitumen recovery can be achieved in the water-based process depending on the ore grade and the processing conditions.

For more general information on the extraction process, including at Imperial Oil, please refer to:

Technology and Knowledge Gaps

  • Methods for decreasing extraction GHG emission.
  • Reducing water usage for the extraction process.
  • Methods/processes that can further enhance bitumen separation.
  • Development of methods and techniques for quick slurry composition measurements – both in-situ and ex-situ.
  • Fundamental understanding of bitumen aeration and de-aeration process and methods to improve both.
  • Fundamental understanding of processing ore in the presence of coal.
  • Using computational methods to develop predictive models (transient and steady-state) for different stages of oil sands processing.
  • Alternative chemicals for bitumen processing and fundamental science.
  • Fundamental science for producing cleaner froth (i.e., fewer solids) in extraction.
  • Methods to reduce fines generated by extraction.
  • Relationship between slurry conditioning and bitumen recovery and novel conditioning approaches.
  • In-situ and continuous measurement of froth quality (e.g., imaging or other properties).

Preferred Processes and Methods

  • New process concepts or enhancement of the current practice that could be integrated into the existing process.
  • Low GHG emission, non-solvent approaches.
  • Processing to minimize waste rejection.

Smart Mining

For information on the mining process, including at Imperial Oil, refer to the following links:

2021/22  Focus 1: Autonomous Mining Systems

Challenges

Instrumentation and software development for autonomy:

  • Need for autonomous systems for independent projects (mine equipment inspections; facility inspections; environmental assessments; cleaning and maintenance systems in the field; aquatic systems for sample collection and bird hazing)
  • Higher levels of autonomy are required (situational awareness, respond appropriately to unexpected events and obstacles)

Expanded autonomy for aerial systems:

  • Light-weight detect and avoid systems; meet regulatory compliance for BVLOS
  • Weather condition monitoring

Autonomous maintenance/reliability systems:

  • Self-cleaning sensors and systems
  • Continued operation in adverse weather (rain, snow, dust, fog, cold)

2021/22  Focus 2: Measurement and Instrumentation

Background

The oil sands mining industry uses online instrumentation to measure general trends of bitumen content and fines content through a proxy of illite. These sensors provide an indication of ore quality on a continuous point basis and, in general, provide limited time for the operation to respond to the change in feed quality.

Technology and Knowledge Gaps

  • Limited applicability for ore reconciliation due to indicative nature and point scale.
  • Value in providing a true value of bitumen content, fines content, particle size distribution, and/or clay activity or clay typing.
  • Missing ability to determine particle size distribution and clay activity or clay typing.
  • Required earlier on in the process: mine face, on shovels, and/or conveyors, faster/more cost-effective core lab analysis, or downhole applications.

Preferred Processes and Methods

  • Field applications should address the environmental suitability of the measurement system, sensitivity of the system to external factors such as ambient lighting, dust, rain, fog, frost, etc.
  • Downhole applications should address operation in an aqueous environment.
  • All methods should address how representative the measurement is of the bulk sample (one mm2 surface measurement does not represent the mine face or a shovel bucket load. 100-1000 done quickly might.)

Smart Mining

Value-Added Products

2021/22 Focus: Value-Added Products from TSRU Tailings

Problem Statement

Mined oil sands industry uses Paraffin Froth Treatment (PFT) process to separate bitumen from water and solids. The rejected tailing stream from the tailing solvent recovery unit (TSRU) of PFT contains about 75% water, 20% minerals, 4% asphaltenes, 1% maltenes, <0.1% paraffinic solvent. There are economic and environmental benefits to convert the TSRU stream into valuable products.

Technology and Knowledge Gaps

  • Methods/processes that can separate hydrocarbons (including asphaltenes and maltene) from the tailings, separate maltenes from asphaltenes, and convert asphaltenes to value-added products.
  • Fundamental science for multiphase stream processing such as clean separation of hydrocarbons from mineral surfaces.

Preferred Processes and Methods

  • New process concepts can consider dry (water removed) or wet TSRU as a feed.
  • Low-GHG emission, non-solvent approaches.
  • Chemical reactions to enhance phase separation and product value.
  • Processing to minimize waste rejection.
  • Catalytic or non-catalytic reactions.
  • Co-processing with other feedstocks such as CO2, flue gas, or natural gas.

 Value-Added Products

  • Recovery of solvent or bitumen components (preferably boiling below 524 oC).
  • Solid carbon-based products such as graphitic carbon, and carbon black.
  • Feed for chemicals synthesis, mineral products.
  • Other (new) products with value.

Value-Added Products